Shredding Barriers

Surfing Club helps build a bridge between locals and students

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A surfer rides the waves at Steamer Lane, a famous point along West Cliff. The growing UC Santa Cruz Competitive Surfing Club hopes to bridge the gap between local and student surfers, despite some locals’ concerns about overcrowding. Photo by Calyse Tobias
A surfer rides the waves at Steamer Lane, a famous point along West Cliff. The growing UC Santa Cruz Competitive Surfing Club hopes to bridge the gap between local and student surfers, despite some locals’ concerns about overcrowding. Photo by Calyse Tobias

The UC Santa Cruz Competitive Surfing Club hosted tryouts for its upcoming season and finished solidifying their team on Oct. 17 just in time for an upcoming tournament in San Diego on Saturday. Founded in 2013, the club continues to get more students into the water and hopes to build a sense of community between students and locals.

“There is a localism and an elitism found at some of the better surfing spots in Santa Cruz,” said third-year captain Luke Sampiere, “more so than at other places. You have to work hard to be part of the community.”

The 42-member club helps with community projects like Operation Surf and the Mauli Ola Foundation events to mediate the gap between the local and student surfers.

Operation Surf is an event held in mid-April, in which the Santa Cruz community volunteers to teach wounded military veterans how to surf. The Mauli Ola Foundation aims to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis, an inherited and life-threatening disorder which damages the lungs and the digestive system. Along with benefit concerts and auctions, the Mauli Ola Foundation hosts “Surf Experience Days,” in which experienced and even professional surfers teach children with cystic fibrosis how to surf.

Sampiere said both local and student surfers are regular volunteers at both of these events, and they are great opportunities to build a sense of community between both, while working together to make a positive change in the world.

“I was at Operation Surf last year,” said local surfer, Dylan Johnson, “[and] so were a bunch of my buddies. We noticed the students helping out too, and we appreciated it — so did the vets.”

Sampiere said these events are held in Santa Cruz not only because of the ideal surfing conditions, but also because Santa Cruz’s rich surfing culture and reputation helps draw more attention and support towards them. The city is ranked No. 1 in Surfer Magazine’s “Best Surf Towns in America” and No. 15 in National Geographic’s “World’s 20 Best Surf Towns.” The surf towns are rated not only on the quality of the waves but also on their sense of community.

Johnson said the waves of Steamer Lane are some of the most famous in all the world, and like anything so sought-after, there is a possessiveness and a feeling of entitlement locals have towards them.

“We see each other out here every single day,” Johnson said. “We generally don’t like students hogging up our waves. There can be some hostility at times. Personally, I don’t like how the university keeps growing, and […] they’re taking up all our waves.”

There are around 3,000 more students at UCSC than there were a decade ago, and the university’s enrollment figure will continue to increase in the wake of UC President Janet Napolitano’s mandate to accept 10,000 more students systemwide by fall 2020.

“[The locals have] been here much longer than we have,” Sampiere said. “They have a right to be protective over this beautiful and limited resource that they have.”

Emilio Galvan, a local surfer and employee at the Santa Cruz Surf Museum, said this idea of integration and mutual enjoyment was the ethic on which American Surfing was originally founded. Surfing was first introduced to Santa Cruz, and to America, by three teenage Hawaiian princes, David Kawananakoa, Edward Keli‘iahonui and Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaʻ‘ole.

“When the Hawaiians introduced surfing to the U.S., they were trying to share a culture of mutual respect,” Galvan said. “They were trying to teach everyone how to surf, regardless of skill level. I think the idea of a surf club is great, if it can perpetuate those values and help to spread that feeling of community.”

Sampiere said the central goal of the club is to encourage more students to surf, to integrate them into the surfing community and to help teach them how to master the art. The club keeps surfing accessible to students by providing rides to those who live further away from beaches and lending their experience to more novice surfers.

The competitive club does not ask any dues from its members aside from the $100 registration fee for joining the National Scholastic Surfing Association. The club operates on a yearly $900 budget provided by the school, with the national tournament costing anywhere from $500 to $700.

In order to pay for competitions, equipment and gas, they sell T-shirts and do restaurant fundraising. Sampiere said they are also planning to host a “learn to surf” day, and much of their budget comes from generous donations from the members’ families.

With the club, students now have a reliable way to get out to the water, as well as a community to help support them as they progress in their skill level.

“It’s a beautiful sport and a great way to meet new friends,” Sampiere said. “I’m just happy to be able to share it with others.”